Making innovation core to your business: Necessary but not easy

Innovation | Marketing Donut

We hear all the time that companies must be constantly innovating or else risk losing to better resourced or more aggressive competitors or to disruptive technologies and business models. And the reason is clear; there’s evidence all around us. Blockbuster, Kodak, Blackberry and Compaq are just a few iconic brands that went bust from a failure to respond to competition. Yet there are also many examples of companies that have not only survived, but thrived, innovating their way to success. Apple, McDonald’s and Lego come to mind.

Dr Marcus Powe has been helping leaders implement and embed innovation systems for many years. His research, teaching, mentoring led to him being awarded Australia’s Best Entrepreneurial Educator a few years back by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  Marcus shared his thoughts on what it takes to introduce and sustain an innovation system in an organisation in a recent webinar for Massey Business School.

“The first thing you should do is have a look around your company,” Marcus says. “Do you see a focus on best practice and quality? Aggressive uptake of leading edge technology? Continuous incremental improvement? Or, the development of new capabilities and original ideas? If not, you’ve got a problem.”

To be successful, innovation systems have to have commitment from the highest levels of management. Marcus argues that, “CEOs don’t necessarily lead innovation, but they do drive it. They have to get involved at key points, especially at creation and launch.” An innovation champion and innovation team are critical, but everyone must be involved. “You can’t just delegate innovation to the innovation department.”

A related principle is that innovation is not a separate strategy, but must be core business, linked to corporate goals. That means that all management must get involved in creating the vision for innovation and it means that developing a learning culture in the organisation is vital.

While there are identifiable steps to guide an organisation’s journey in implementing innovation systems, there are also many roadblocks along the way to overcome. Barriers to creativity include habits, fear, prejudices and blind acceptance…with fear being the most destructive of these. And some of the barriers to innovation are insecurity, tribalism, politics, and an unwillingness to take risks – with politics being top of that list. All these can be overcome, of course. But if it was easy, we wouldn’t have the Blockbusters, Kodaks and Blackberrys of the business world.

Marcus is working with Massey Business School to enhance our MBA programmes and to help us to help New Zealand businesses contribute to a thriving, prosperous and sustainable future for New Zealand.

Listen to Marcus explain his 8-step plan for implementing successful innovation systems, along with the main barriers that get in the way to success.

 Marcus Powe, PhD founded EIC Growth Pty Ltd to help CEOs and leaders implement, embed and measure creativity and innovation systems that result in enterprising behaviours. He specialises in the growth of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations that operate in the turbulence of national and international market places.

An agile organisation needs a nimble mind

Here’s the scenario: You work as a consultant for a very large company. Your client has just blown their project budget. After spending two years and $74 million, the project team have delivered nothing, and they need another $74 million and another two years to try again! What would you recommend?

Erika Barden studied the situation carefully and knew that the client had to change the way they managed their projects. Unable to watch them waste another pile of cash she recommended that the management team implements an Agile approach. Although the concept of Agile project management is not new, some people are hesitant to implement it. Many believe that Agile involves throwing out the rule book, plunging into projects without a plan, avoiding commitment, dodging accountability and buying many pretty Post-it® notes!

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more Erika learnt about Agile, the more she understood that it was not about avoiding accountability but exactly the opposite. Agile does not avoid processes and tools; it merely places them in the right priority with individuals and interactions. Instead of piles of project documentation, the customer gets working software, and they have been involved in every step of the development process. The customer feels as if they are part of the production process, not merely a passive observer. Instead of rigidly following a plan that daily becomes less relevant as circumstances change, Agile allows people to adapt quickly to change and mitigate big risks along the way. They do go through a fair amount of Post-its®, though.

There are plenty of controls, lots of lean governance and a very clear line of accountability, but the pace is different, and it requires not just a change in process but also a change in the way people think. Erika learnt that the success of an Agile project depends on top executives adopting an Agile mind-set and then transmitting this to everyone in the organisation. A rigid organisation that tries to operate just one aspect of the operation in an Agile way is bound to experience disappointment. Spark made headlines when it adopted an Agile approach not just for its development projects but as a way of doing business.

Erika was in the first cohort of Massey’s Master of Advance Leadership Practice, and her A+ dissertation looked at the way leaders need to change (by adopting an Agile mind-set) in order to ensure that the process is a success across their organisations. She has been an energetic advocate for Agile Leadership and is working on a range of projects with companies in the private and public sector throughout New Zealand.

Listen to Erika explain what Agile really means, how to use it as a business-as-usual process and what you need to do to ensure the successful transformation of your business.

Erika Barden is Head of Agile for Frank Innovation & Transformation, a company committed to delivering value-enhancing change. She is also a graduate of the Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP).

Are you living a well-lived life? 

Most of my work is to encourage people to “be all they can be”.

On many of the leadership development programmes at Massey, people ask me what they should do in their job or career to get more from their work. My reply, “Don’t ask me what you should do but what you could be”. Wouldn’t it be great if everybody wanted to run into work on Monday mornings? It would not feel like work then, would it?

To do this you need to find a job that you love; it is not too difficult to find “A job” but to find “THE Job” now, that is a different challenge.  The first part of this challenge is to find out as much about you as possible:

  • What are your values?
  • What would excite you enough to get you to go in on that wet July morning?
  • What are your strengths and limitations?
  • What are your emotional skills; your “emotional intelligence”?
  • What form of resilience will keep you on track and believing in yourself when the going gets tough?
  • How will you manage your relationships with others?
  • How quickly do you adapt to transitions?
  • Can you manage your own stress and anger?
  • What mood do you take into a room with you?
  • Last, but not least, how will you deal with failure and success?

Once you have a clear understanding of who you are there is another set of hard questions to answer – matching who you are to what jobs are out there.  “How would I match up to the jobs on offer?”

  • What jobs would really describe me and my sense of purpose?  But perhaps another way to ask this is “Where would I fit in?”
  • Which organisation aligns with my values?
  • Where would I be allowed to use most of my strengths to a purpose that I believe useful for all my life energy?
  • Where would my limitations be accommodated rather than cursed?

These are just a few of the questions that everyone who has a job they love has answered.

So if you want to make a start on that, the related pages in the links below will give you an opportunity to look at some of your values, understand and start developing some of those emotional skills,  review how you approach interviews against a checklist that you have made and a quick guide to success at work and in the new job.

Watch Mike’s career Webinar here.

Author, Mike Fiszer, heads up the Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP)


Values link: values
Emotional Intelligence Link: EQscales
Interview Link: interview
Success at Work: success